Health Dialog Connections

Workforce Engagement: Five Ways to Get Your Population Moving Toward Health

A woman stretching

By now, over 80% of the people in your population have already given up on their New Year’s resolution to get healthy or lose weight. Getting people to think about healthy lifestyle changes is easy enough, but motivating them to stay committed to the cause is much more difficult. Successful workforce engagement campaigns utilize behavior change models that emphasize the importance of person-centered communication. The key is to focus not only on the health benefits of a lifestyle change but also on an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and perceived importance of that change. In other words, you have to convince your population that they want to change.

Here are some ideas you can pitch to your population:

1. Don’t Exercise (Say What?)

Exercise is a “four letter word” (figuratively speaking) that brings up connotations of regimented, tedious and difficult tasks inside of intimidating and often overpriced gyms. Recommending people to “exercise more” usually doesn’t work. Instead, encourage and engage your people to MOVE. Any type of activity can help improve health. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, individuals should partake in 150 hours of physical activity a week, which may seem like a daunting task, but breaking this up into smaller segments can feel more palatable for most people. For older adults, the National Institute on Aging has a great program for getting fit, called Go4Life. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what type of exercise your population chooses as long as you can get them interested and committed in some type of sustained movement.  Providing space for employees to exercise before or after work may help limit travel or financial barriers.

2. Work ergonomics: To sit or to stand?

A lot has been written on the ergonomics of standing versus traditional sitting desks. But what we are now finding is that whether we encourage our employees to sit or stand to do their work is not as important as getting them moving. The risks are in the absence of movement, whether sitting or standing, not in the position itself. Desktop computer programs, smart phone apps, or other reminder tools that prompt short bursts of movement once an hour can go a long way towards engaging your population in better health habits. Frequent movement at the workstation isn’t part of the 150 minutes of daily sustained movement, but can be just as important for overall health (stretching or bending are a few examples). 

3. Walk or stroll

Not too long ago, powerwalks were the be-all end-all of exercise routines but the speed in which you walk doesn’t seem to play as large a roll in health as the fact that you are moving in the first place. Providing flexibility in the work day for employees to have walking meetings, or wandering to another floor to eat lunch or make photocopies could be the key to getting movement back in their day. Just “wandering around” can still be beneficial. Encourage walking to another department to ask a question face-to-face, instead of sending an email. Encourage walking groups for a 5 or 10 minute breaks before or after lunch or at the beginning or end of the day. Better yet, launch walking competitions or challenges using pedometers or other step trackers to spark competition and motivate employees to walk more throughout their day. Create safe walking environments around the building or inside to make it easier for employees to be active throughout the day.

4. No pain no gain?

Exercise shouldn't hurt more than 48 hours after an activity. Regardless of whether you are a conditioned athlete or a January 2nd beginner, a condition known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can occur whenever muscles work harder or in a different way than they usually do. The unexpected thing about DOMS is the “Delay,” which usually occurs about 24-48 hours after exercise. After 48 hours most people start to feel better but this discomfort can often discourage them from continuing to exercise. Educating your population about DOMS through health fairs or workplace posters, can help them modify activities to prevent it, or at least understand that it usually gets better as they get more fit.

5. Flexibility

Muscle flexibility will help your population move more comfortably and may even help to reduce DOMS, but health reimbursement flexibility that enables individuals to take part in a variety of wellness activities (such as yoga classes, or dancing groups, or walking clubs) is also critical. Removing barriers to your population’s health (financial, time, or access) may be an important area to explore to find the right incentive to move them toward health.

Has your organization implemented workforce engagement programs focused on motivating people to move? Did you get the results you were hoping for?

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